Lions tour to make step up in intensity against Blues
WELLINGTON: British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland knows his side will have to be put through hell if they are to be ready for the All Blacks on June 24, and the Blues will provide the perfect trial by fire for his side tomorrow.
The Lions got off to a stuttering start to their tour on Saturday, limping to a 13-7 victory over the Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei with a performance that was roundly criticised by pundits both in New Zealand and back home.
While Gatland agreed it was not the ideal way to begin their 10-match tour, he said it was important to keep getting tough games under their belt to prepare for three Tests against world champions New Zealand.
“We know we didn’t play too well on Saturday (and) ... there are some things we need to work on,” he said when he named his side for the Blues clash. We have been saying all along how strong New Zealand rugby is at the moment ... (but) these games are helping us prepare and coming to grips with what New Zealand rugby brings.
“And that is only going to help us for the Test matches.”
Gatland had promised wholesale changes for each of the first three games of the tour in order to give all of the 41 players an opportunity to press for Test selection.
He stuck to his word for the Blues game with an entirely different starting side from that which played the Barbarians and indicated there could be up to 11 changes to the run-on side for the next game against the Crusaders on Saturday.
“You know you have limited preparation time, so you’re putting out the strongest team you can,” he added.
“You’re looking to put out combinations that make it a little bit easier to allow a squad to gel together.”
In the Blues, they will undoubtedly be put under more pressure than they faced against the Barbarians.
While they have already been eliminated from Super Rugby playoff contention, the competition’s convoluted conference system has skewed their place in the standings.
“There are some quality individuals who are game breakers in that side,” Gatland said. “Even though they’re bottom of the New Zealand conference they’re not far away.
“We know how tough they’re going to be.”
Apart from dropping lock Patrick Tuipulotu to the bench and with Jerome Kaino still recovering from knee surgery, Tana Umaga named eight All Blacks in arguably his strongest starting side.
The biggest question mark hangs over rookie flyhalf Stephen Perofeta, who only made his debut off the bench on Friday, and how well he can spark a physical, hard-running backline that includes Sonny Bill Williams, George Moala and Rieko Ioane.
“It’s an opportunity for Stephen to step up and we think he’s ready to do that,” Umaga said. “We don’t want to put too much pressure on the young man, but an opportunity against the British and Irish Lions doesn’t come around every day and we don’t have to talk about how big this game is for anyone.” – Reuters